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Groveton family homeless after fire

July 01, 2009
GROVETON — A fire on Goulet Street on Wednesday afternoon left a family of seven with no home and no belongings. Michelle Montgomery, her fiancé John White and five children lived in one of the two units at the rental property owned by Mike and Cecile Currier of Lancaster. The living room area of the family's home caught fire late in the afternoon on June 24, with the accidental blaze originating in the vicinity of a fish tank, Mr. Currier said. The family had bought the watery abode at a yard sale recently and had just two goldfish in the tank.

Ms. Montgomery said that she had been contemplating going to put her two-year old twin girls down for a nap, when she opted to take the fussy tots for a walk instead. Accompanying them was her eight-year-old son Jordan, an avid animal lover, who was hoping their walk would take them by a family of baby skunks in the neighborhood. Ms. Montgomery estimates the quartet was gone for around 45 minutes to an hour, and returned home stunned to find the dead-end street crawling with firefighters and their home and belongings up in smoke. "It was pretty scary," she said.

Mr. White, along with Ms. Montgomery's 12- and 14-year-old sons, were not home at the time.

A neighbor in the rear apartment, Anthony Morris, called in the fire and even went into the burning building twice looking for Jordan, whom they believed could still be in the apartment. A passerby, and friend of the family, Scott Marshall, also stopped to help. Mr. Marshall grabbed a neighbor's garden hose, broke out a window and began fighting the living room fire from outside the building, Ms. Montgomery said.

Groveton and Lancaster Fire Departments were called to the scene to put out the fire. The Littleton Area Disaster Action Team of the Granite Chapter of the American Red Cross also responded to assist the family.

Mr. Currier said the interior of the home was completely destroyed, while the outside remained intact. The exterior of the building showed little sign of the damage that consumed the contents of the home. He has already applied to the town for a building permit to gut and rebuild the interior of the residence.

Ms. Montgomery said she believes little if anything will be able to be salvaged and it could take months for her family to be able to move back in. "We don't know what we can save," she said. All of the children's toys, including Jordan's collection of pandas and Webkins, were in the living room and are gone. The family's furniture, clothing, and beds were all ruined by the heavy black smoke that the burning living room furniture created.

The Red Cross gave the family some financial assistance for food, clothing, and household supplies and arranged for them to spend three nights at the Village Motel. Ms. Montgomery said her biggest concern was that after Friday night, she did not know where her family would live. "It's hard to find a place with five kids," she explained. "That's really our biggest worry right now."

On Monday morning, Ms. Montgomery stopped by with an update of the family's situation, and, if possible, it had gotten worse. On Friday, Jordan fell off a swing set and broke his elbow. He had surgery on Saturday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, and is now home. Home, at least for now, continues to be the Pine Tree Motel. Ms. Montgomery said that St. Paul's Episcopal Church took up a collection for the family on Sunday to help with the motel expenses, and the owners at the Pine Tree have been "amazing," as well, she said, telling the family not to worry and giving them one of the largest rooms.

Other businesses have also pitched in to help, with Simon the Tanner in Lancaster donating an outfit and pair of shoes for each member of the family, and Chutters in Littleton giving Jordan a discount on some stuffed animals on Sunday. The family had stopped there on their way home from the hospital, because Sunday was Jordan's birthday, and Chutters is one of his favorite stores.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Ms. Montgomery, whose family is no stranger to fires. One of Ms. Montgomery's older sons is the nephew of Greg Shepard, who lost his life while trying to save his two sons in a tragic fire in Dalton several years ago that also claimed the children's lives.

The Montgomery Fire Fund has been established at the Passumpsic Savings Bank for anyone who would like to help the family recover financially. The Groveton Market is also accepting monetary donations. Donations of home goods, clothing, toys or other items can be made by calling Cassandra White at 636-2168 or Debbie Montgomery at 636-2760.

Martin Lord Osman
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